ADAM Smith, the great 18th-century economist and philosopher, famously observed that people of the same trade rarely get together without the conversation ending in some conspiracy against the public. When the Senate meets again after the winter recess, members of the same trade — party politics — will decide on how to regulate their political competition.
I’m referring of course to the bill to ban all foreign-sourced and anonymous above $50 political donations to NGOs, plus lower the expenditure and donations disclosure thresholds from $10,900 every 12 months to $1,000 every 6 months.
Proposals to regulate political donations are almost invariably accompanied by high-minded concerns about protecting the political process from improper influence through donations. But one of the great ironies is that while attempts to show improper influence by donors almost always fail, there is one clear prima facie case of the parties being corrupted by donations considerations: the disclosure law itself.
As I have documented before on this blog, the Liberals are quite blatant about their attempts to use electoral law to get at their political opponents. But both parties have an interest in undermining major competitors for political support and involvement.
And I very much doubt anyone in Labor seriously believes that $1,000 donations are likely to corrupt government decisions. Even crooked pollies would have enough self-respect to ask for more than that. The purpose is to deter Liberal donors who don’t want their names made public, for fear that it will compromise their business dealings with government.
Donations regulation is a grubby business, in which partisan self-interest triumphs over the public interest.